How to Communicate Through Shortwave Radio

Tuning on an SW radio, you can not only listen to the local broadcasts but also the international ones.

Now the question is, How to tune it on? How to switch to ones’ favorite station in a shortwave radio?

How to adjust signals and change frequencies? Or in short, the whole procedure of operating a shortwave radio?

To understand how to communicate through an SW radio, first, you must understand how it works. It's a receiver that receives frequencies between 3 to 30 MHz. Two characteristics enable shortwave signals to propagate for long distances.

One, shortwave signals tend to follow the earth curvature. So it enables them to bend around the horizon instead of going off into space.

Two, again as they bounce off the ionosphere, the signal easily travels past the horizon.

Hence, two types of communication systems mainly use them. One the international broadcasting and another for coordination of long-distance shipping.

Now how you’ll find those broadcasts in your SW radio, let’s check that out step by step.

Step 1: Choose SW Features

You can have a vast choice of SW radio features. Go to a store which has a wide collection of SW radio. By Comparing radio features choose the following anyone that suits your purpose best.

Analog shortwave:

You can get them only at $30-70, and they’re beyond just well. It receives Amplitude Modulation (AM) as well as Single Side Band (SSB) mode.

AM radio:

Amplitude Modulation is a corporate mode for broadcasters. But an AM mode radio won’t be able to monitor intelligible SSB mode.

SSB radio:

On the other hand, an SSB radio receives both AM and SSB modes.

Digital tuners:

This is an expensive one. It’s also known as Phase Locked Loop (PLL). The features allow to tune precisely and lock a particular frequency. These tuners virtually eliminate drift. Also, they can scan and memorize frequencies easily.

However, there are also many inexpensive digital tuners. While tuning, they may present you with ‘automatic muting’ or ‘chopping’ sound. But analog tuners are free from these. It won’t be a problem at all if you tune to a specific frequency. But if you attempt to scan shortwave bands, it would only be a problem then.

Step 2: Upgrade to an External Antenna

This will improve your radio’s signal reception. The antenna that comes with your radio will enable you to listen only to the nearby stations. To listen to the more distant stations, you must use an external long-wire antenna.

You can clamp a long length of wire to the rod antenna with an alligator clip. Move the wire until it finds a better reception. Then lock it to that optimum position.

Again, you can get a ready to install SWL antenna from manufacturers. Or you can also make one yourself. What I am trying to say, anything will be better than that telescopic rod antenna.

Step 3: Learn About Shortwave Band

You may know that the wavelength of shortwave radio band is between 10 to 85 meters. Some of those bands named as 25 meters, 31 meters, 49 meters. Each of them indicates a particular frequency range. The frequency can be in megahertz or kilohertz.

Go through the radio’s manual to find out the way to get into specific bands. The clearest signals can be acquired at different times of a day. It may be during the sunrise and sunset (as most of the bands have). Or maybe at night or during the day. Know when yours will catch the better signal.

Step 4: Now Scan And Find Content “Hit Or Miss.”

Publications like Passport to World Band Radio, provide schedule and frequencies of broadcasters. Also, many websites will help you to find which frequency is being used by which broadcasters.

Some people also look for the following contents-

● Foreign stations:

You may find them as DXing where DX is the telegraphic shorthand of ‘distance.'

● Number Station

● Specialized shortwave utility

Step 5: Send an SWL Reception Report to a Broadcaster (Optional)

By doing this, you’ll request for QSL cards as keepsakes. These will help you to reach your feedback to the broadcasters. Record the following information for an SWL reception record.

1. Name of the program

2. Name of the announcers

3. The content of the news or any other program.

4. How and when the station detects itself.

5. Unique Items to the locality of the station

6. And finally using SIPNO code how well the signal was received.

Here, SIPNO stands for –

Signal- that refers to the received signal’s strength

Interference- that assures that the signals and stations are interfering with each other.

Noise- identifies whether any atmospheric or other noise is there on the frequency

Propagation- this is the fading characteristics of the signal

Overall- informs the station of the quality of the signal you’re receiving.


● Stations give times of their programs in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). Therefore, you have to convert it to your local time zone.

● Also, the knowledge of SI units will help you to convert between megahertz and kilohertz.

● If your digital radio has the ‘chopping’ sound and the ‘auto-muting’ function, you can modify them. Before you purchase, ask the store to modify it. Or there are several internet sites those sell and modify radios as well. Even you can convert your AM radio so that it can receive SSB signal.

● If your reception is bad, change the antenna. Ask help from a radio amateur to know which one is better for you.

● Some stations provide the Reception Report Form on their websites. They even accept email. Thus you can give your feedback without QSLs.

Bottom line

See, communicating through an SW radio doesn’t require any special skill or knowledge. The more you’ll use it and get experience; the more your listening techniques will develop. And so your enjoyment will also increase gradually.

Many major sources of news and entertainment are broadcast in shortwave band frequencies. For example, China Radio International, Voice of Russia, BBC, VOA. Highly developed regions like North America, Western Europe use other bands of frequencies.

Another important thing is that you have to be up to date about local and international issues. It’s because they affect radio broadcasts significantly. Also, know how to troubleshoot your radio. Additionally, antenna making, installation, and maintenance skill will help you a lot.

Best of luck with your 1st attempt!

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